Canadian “Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley brings the stage to life whenever she sets foot into the spotlight” (Toronto Star). Praised as a “vocal and dramatic powerhouse”, her 2013/14 season is filled with debuts and return engagements. Her winter/spring is infused with Mozart repertoire with her Toronto Symphony Orchestra debut during their Mozart @258 Festival, Donna Elvira in Vancouver Opera’s Don Giovanni, then Countessa Almaviva with Pacific Opera Victoria in Le Nozze di Figaro. Bradley’s full schedule will soon be readily available on her soon-to-be-launched website http://www.leslieannbradley.com
On the occasion of the Mozart @ 258 Festival January 15th & 16th with the TSO, I ask Bradley ten questions: five about herself and five more about singing Mozart.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
The word that best describes my family is “diversity.” We are all very different and yet we have managed to be a positive influence in our distinct ways.
My father is a farmer, he is one of the hardest working men you will ever meet. He is also one of the most deeply kind and generous spirits on earth. He has taught me the value of preparation, patience and endurance. A seed that is sowed properly and tended with care will produce a terrific harvest. And should you hit rough weather, you put your nose to the grindstone and you get the job done….no matter what. My dad’s simple farming wisdom has become the mantra of my life.
My mother works in the fashion industry. She is a stylist and she owns a ladies clothing boutique in Port Perry. She is the quintessential cool mom; fun, fearless and fabulous. She has an eye for shapes and colours. She LOVES to make women feel good about themselves and her job is her passion. So I like to think I get that passion from her – she wakes up every morning and gets to do what she loves, and so do I.
My family picture is not complete unless I tell you about my sister Betty. She shows my parents diversity in an opposite, yet complimentary way. She is a large animal Veterinarian in Southern Alberta. In fact, she was the first female partner in her practice. She spends her days “fixing cows” by doing surgeries and c-sections (you should see the size of her surgery gloves) and she is on the front lines for animal welfare.
My sister is FIERCE. She doesn’t even bat an eye at a cranky 2,000 pound Bovine and in her spare time she practices “mounted shooting”, which means you ride your horse as fast as you can and shoot as many balloon targets as possible. She’s got my father’s love of animals and my mother’s flare.
My sister and I always joke that it is her job to keep me grounded and my job to keep her cultured. It’s something of a win-win.
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a singer?
For me, the two are the same. I LOVE process, I love to wake up every day and get better, learn something new, push my limits. But in the same breath, HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? When do you JUST GET IT? It’s the pain and the pleasure of turning passion into craft. But that is also what excites and drives me, sometimes crazy, but ever forward.
3- Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Ok, this is embarrassing. I am what is known as a geek, at least in terms of knowledge of pop (popular) music. It’s not that I dislike pop or rock or “whatever the kids are listening to these days”, but the truth of the matter is I just don’t crave it. So I don’t seek it.
For example, last year my sister and I had a rather long drive together and so she put the radio on. She asked if the channel she chose was alright. I said, “sure, this will be a great chance for me to catch-up on a little popular music.” She looked at me mystified and replied, “uh, Les…..this is the 80’s channel.”
SO, who I am listening to right now is not exactly 2014. I love Ella Fitzgerald (I challenge anyone to find a better sense of legato than hers)….and I am currently a little obsessed with Lisa della Casa. For me she is like a singing Elizabeth Taylor; glamourous, elegant, the epitome of class and refinement. And yet, once you scratch the surface she is vulnerable, very funny and even quirky. There is an interview of her where she actually stops to light up a cigarette!!! When the interviewer asks if that is a good idea, she replies that she consulted her doctor and he assured her that “the singing is more dangerous than the smoking.” I mean, I think that is hilarious and fabulous. (not that I’ll be buying a pack of Gauloises any time soon).
4 – What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
HA! Wow, I’m going to have to go with time travel.
OH, and the ability to invent a machine that washes, folds, and packs your clothes with the click of a button.
5 – When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I’m blessed with a great man in my life, so any free time we get, we like to just be together. We live in New York, so we love to explore the city and enjoy its endless possibilities. He is also a terrific cook, (whereas I’m lucky if I can pour a decent bowl of cereal) so we like to entertain friends.
Five more about singing with the TSO at the Mozart @258 Festival
1- How does singing Mozart challenge you?
I think Mozart is the goal-post by which a singer’s technical ability is often measured. That’s why if you put a Mozart aria on your audition list, 9 times out of 10 you will get asked for it.
I believe Mozart is challenging because he is such an exquisite craftsman. He writes so perfectly that unless you are on top of your game, it’s hard to do it justice. A bit like a gorgeous painting or sculpture, you can’t just display it willy nilly, you have to prep the room to maximize it’s effect.
And that prep takes YEARS!!!! Mozart still teaches me everyday, he requires me to have better pitch, better breath, better spin…..basically he is my high-maintenance relationship. But he’s so worth it.
2- What do you love about singing Mozart?
I love that when it’s right, it’s heaven. When you sing his work and you spin his gorgeous lines and the orchestra lifts you and carries you….it’s the closest you’ll ever come to having wings. I remember listening to Kiri Te Kanawa sing “Dove sono” when I was a little girl. The first time I heard her sing , I was amazed by this simple, soaring line that just seemed effortless and endless. It was perfection.
3-Do you have a favourite moment in the program?
Well, speaking of Dove sono, the last movement of the Coronation Mass (Agnus Dei) recalls this aria. I call it my “Dove sono down a 5th.” It’s exquisite and has the added bonus of a quartet of soloists and a full choir.
But if I had to pick that one moment that just kills me, that would be bar 62 in the Laudate Dominum. The violins introduce the melody and then they pass it to the solo soprano who then passes it to the choir. But just as the choir is about to sing what sounds to be the final cadence, Mozart fools you and brings the soprano solo back in on a high f pianissimo that grows from nothing and surges upwards. It’s likes Mozart lifts us up to the heavens and then returns us to earth. No wonder the word he uses for this is AMEN.
4- Please comment on the difference between singing at symphonic concerts compared to singing opera.
Well, I’d say that in the beginning it’s quite similar. There is always the nuts and bolts preparation; text, translation, learning your notes and singing it into the voice. I am pretty strict with myself in this. I try not to listen to any recordings, I try not to assume. I just like to get a sense of the basic structure and framework.
From that point on, the demands are quite different. With opera, there is of course the character, and this is where the journey gets interesting. I have to find out where the character is from, what their background is, what motivations they have, what they are risking: their “WHY”. I love the “why”s.
Also, depending on when the opera was written there is the temporal requirements to consider. WHEN was it written and what made it important at that moment in time? I am reading this great book by Daniel Snowman called “The Guilded Stage.” It’s a social history of opera and it is fascinating to see how the art form has moved and adapted to the times.
Opera is also more physical. You are moving on the stage, interacting with the other characters. And the physical demands vary from work to work, so I try to be aware of the demands in order to arrive with the best preparation possible. Last year, for example, I sang a show where there was a lot of dance involved, so 8 months before rehearsals I hired a dance coach to teach me some basics.
Concert work is of course more static, but that too has its challenges, because you are required to tell the story just with your voice. So it is (in my opinion) a more subtle, more nuanced genre, and often I find myself feeling much more exposed, because the communication with the audience is more direct.
There is also the wonderful connection with a conductor and orchestra. Concert work is how my career started, so whenever I get onto a stage in this way it feels very much like coming home.
5-Is there a teacher or influence you especially admire?
If I talk about one, I have to talk about all four, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
My first teacher was Mary Morrison, who as we all know is a legend. I did my undergraduate degree with Mary at the University of Toronto and I couldn’t have asked for a better start. Mary knew I was keen and hungry to learn. So she helped me explore a vast amount of repertoire, from baroque to new music. She encouraged me to try everything and not to limit myself, all the while letting my voice grow in a healthy way and in it’s own time. Mary is generosity, curiosity and fun incarnate.
My second teacher was Marie Daveluy. I met her while I was singing a production of Don Giovanni and I knew instantly that she was the next step for me. So I moved to Montreal. Marie was retiring and therefore not keen to take on a new student, but before she knew it I was at her house 3 times a week. Marie was my game-changer. She inspired the artist and the bad-ass that I didn’t even know was inside me. Scales weren’t just about perfection, they were about soul. Every sound and every word had to have vision and artistic intent. She blew my mind. I owe her so much, because she sculpted the artist I have become.
2009 was a crazy year for me. I was already into my career, when I decided to do a Masters Degree with Lorna MacDonald. I think people thought I was nuts for hitting the brakes just as things were taking off. But I knew that I was at the critical point where talent needs to become skill and Lorna was there to show me the way. To say retooling at this point in the game was difficult is not even close. It was gruelling. To strip away bad habits and insecurities was terrifying, but Lorna, with her vocal wisdom and her thoughtful, organized calm just took me by the hand and together we fixed the cracks. I handed her my voice and my trust and she handed me back a world of larger possibilities.
And now, whenever possible, I work with the divine Wendy Nielsen. I met Wendy 10 years ago at her summer program in New Brunswick and our paths have happily crossed ever since. Wendy is like sunshine; warm and good for growth. She has helped me continue the process of understanding my voice and also how things work in the opera world. She has been invaluable in my preparation of my upcoming Mozart roles and just a wonderful supportive teacher and friend.
I feel so lucky as a Canadian artist that our country has these incredible ladies in it. They have my eternal gratitude and respect.
Mozart @ 258 begins January 11th. For information, including the Coronation Mass, January 15 & 16, see this.